As the winter off-season training season begins, have you taken some time to think about the single best race experience you had during 2019? I did not say the best race performance, but race experience (they may be synonymous). Also, what excites you for 2020? Is there one race that you can’t wait to do? This will be covered in the Part II post.
Consider a deep think about your season, what single race signified a lifetime memory – keep in mind it might have been a bad season and that’s fine, but there surely were some learning lessons.
Over the past 3 decades racing in endurance events around the world, one thing that continues to change is that my number of events in a season is shorter with typically but they are all long (lasting over 4 days). When you start to go long there is no turning back and most races will start to bunch together in either the ultra, sprint or middle distance categories. We tend to race within the length space we excel in the most. Personally, the bikepacking bug had fully embraced me with the self-supported racing scene since the 2016 Trans Am Bike Race.
My race season was clearly highlighted by one event and this year and it was not the 30-day race (Personally, I love the 30 day race – in 2019 it was the 3400 mile Bike Non Stop race) but a shorter race called the Trans South Dakota. It was the best race I have done in many years and I was disqualified as well!
I came across the Trans South Dakota in 2018 and reached out to the super RD and better yet – athlete, Joe Stiller. I spoke to Joe in depth about his event and signed up along with getting a great amount of information and Bar Yak bars for my attempt at the Tour Divide. Joe’s knowledge came through immediately as he was an athlete first and that means a lot to me as an athlete. An athlete race director knows what the athlete is going through when it gets tough. Joe has completed the uber tough Iditarod Trail Bike race just for background – toughness defined.
I was not able to participate in Joe’s 2018 event as I was mentally and physically beat after the Tour Divide Race but he offered me an opportunity to roll my race registration fees to 2019.
Fast forward to July of 2019 and along with a few great friends from Pittsburgh, Al, Rick, Mike and Chad from Wisconsin, we all headed to South Dakota for our first experience (Rick had done the race the prior year and mentioned how much fun it was and spectacular terrain). It’s always great heading to a race with a bunch of friends and racing.
We arrived at Joe’s house and spent some time meeting in person and his lovely wife and passionate cyclist – Tina to coordinate for the evening’s dinner. We stayed at Joe and Tina’s house and he allowed us to camp out in the luxury of his finished basement – a nice touch beyond! Of course we explored all of their bikes neatly hanging from the wall as we all immediately identified the Lauf fork – on the purchase list! We all had a great kickoff dinner at a local Mexican restaurant and immediately knew this was an old school race with a personal touch. It reminded me from the times long ago in the 1980’s when we all raced without all the frills and drama of today.
The following morning, Tina and Joe prepared amazing breakfast burritos at the house before our journey from Sioux Falls, South Dakota across the state to the Wyoming border. As we loaded up the van and various cars, we all headed across South Dakota with some scenic views, stops and lunch. The race travels from west to east across the state and is highlighted by several National Parks and miles and miles of gravel, B roads and a tough single-track section.
After arriving in Beulah, Wyoming, we set up our gear at the campground (camp the night before the race at that starting line) we all gathered at the Buffalo Jump Restaurant to enjoy a nice meal, race lottery with some gifts and announcements from Tina and Joe. I have not mentioned, but a great group of riders from around the country – bike packing folks are the best!
Race morning arrived to a nice sunny day as Joe had his Cowboy gear on with holster and he fired the real pistol in the air and we were off. As I mentioned, the first 40-50 miles are tough single track and when riding smaller tires and gravel bikes it was challenging for sure.
After a typical crash I did not realize that I lost my Spot tracker (must of flown off when I crashed into a puddle), which is a requirement like all bikepacking races - you must have a Spot. It’s a long story and not to bore you, Joe called me and I was officially scratched out of the race – however, I decided to ride the course and continue on for the next several days to finish the course.
The course is absolutely stunning and how often do you get a chance to ride through two National Parks and a community of people throughout South Dakota that were beyond friendly. No cars not traffic and just free riding. The Badlands National Park and buffalo parade were memories engrained in my mind forever. The park is over the top. Mt. Rushmore and the entire small town mentality and talking with the locals at the convenience stores and restaurants.
Most important, I got the chance to ride with Mike and Chad after I was out of the race and it was great fun rolling along as we pushed to each new town and then dealt with the scramble of where to eat, get water and managing the typical tiredness as the days rolled along.
Highlights from my favorite race of 2019:
- Best in class race directors – Tina and Joe Stiller
- Mexican burrito breakfast – I don’t typically eat or like eggs, these were amazing
- Camping under the crystal clear skies full of stars
- Pushing to fast through deep puddles and single track and losing my Spot
- Sleeping in the grass in a shady field next to the Corn Palace
- Discussing politics with the locals in a convenient store
- Watching the most amazing sunsets and sunrises over the land day after day.
- The people of Small town USA
- Rushmore – it’s stunning when the sun comes up.
- Badlands National Park - clearly one of the most spectacular parks in the US
- Double Track Hike a Bike
- Sleeping in a campground bathroom that was warm
- Using my selling skills to convince a local Lions Club at 11:30PM to serve Chad and I some pizza after a long, long day in the saddle.
- Getting scratched from the race
- Reinforcement that bike packing self supported events = old school racing fun.
The race was clearly one of my best experiences in a long while racing. Yes, we are all going back in 2020 to South Dakota! Check out Joe’s website with all the details, it’s a GREAT EVENT https://www.transsouthdakotarace.com